Nick & Vanessa Lachey Share Secrets to Parenting
Vanessa Lachey vividly remembers the first time that proverbial lightbulb switched on.
Standing in the kitchen of the home she shares with husband Nick Lachey, she was whipping up a batch of chicken adobo—a Filipino recipe that ignites one of the few fond memories she has with mom Helen—when her best friend Lauren asked if the recipe had been passed down from her mother’s family in Manila.
“Since that was a hard no,” Vanessa writes in her new book, Life From Scratch, “I explained that it was a dish I had been googling and experimenting with for a few years, eventually tweaking it to make it my own.”
Which is when her friend responded with something that left Vanessa shook. “She literally says, ‘Oh, so this tradition starts with you,'” Vanessa recalls to E! News. “And I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ And I remember writing it down in my phone and saving it and I’m like, this has to be in the title somewhere when I write this book. And that was 10 years ago.”
After a decade of writing and creating countless more traditions, Vanessa’s creation—part memoir, part entertaining guide, part recipe collection—proudly bears the subtitle Family Traditions That Start With You, a nod to the arguably Rockwellian existence she’s built with Nick, her husband of 11 years, and their kids Camden, 9, Brooklyn, 6, and Phoenix, 4.
Thanks to reminders from Nick and her friends, Vanessa started making note of all the practices she’d helped create, from their first day of school pancake breakfast to their day-after-Thanksgiving ritual. “I just realized, like, we’ve created this from scratch,” she explains, “and when I step back and look at it, it makes happy.”
Because if the 41-year-old is being completely honest, she wasn’t always confident she knew what to do to manifest a dream childhood for her brood. After all, she was just 9 when she, her brother Vincent Jr. and her mom left their home in Turkey—where her stepdad was serving in the military—at the start of the Gulf War. Her mom brought them to her father and stepmother’s doorstep in the U.S. and, after showing up to take them to lunch for a few weeks, disappeared for good.
“I remember growing up wondering, ‘Is she going to come back?’ And then she didn’t,” Vanessa shares. “And that was the worst feeling for a little kid. Especially a little girl with her mom.”
Eventually she settled in to her new South Carolina home, but her mom’s absence (save for one brief appearance when Vanessa was in the sixth grade and the time Helen reached out to see how much money she’d won as Miss Teen USA), showed up in myriad ways.
“I mean, I was the girl, I wore a white dress to a wedding,” Vanessa recalls of the embarrassment that ranks right up there with the time she had to ask her dad Vincent how to use a tampon. “Like, anything, I just, I had to figure out on my own. Thank goodness for the Internet. And, also, thank goodness for those sites where people can chime in and say, ‘I did this, but I changed this up.’ Or, ‘I did this and this failed for me.'”
The void felt particularly painful after the 2012 arrival of her and Nick’s first child.
“Growing up without a mother in my life to help me,” Vanessa says, “I kind of felt like I was, I don’t want to say swaying in the wind, because that makes it sound so dramatic, but I’m like, ‘What are you supposed to do for your kid’s first birthday? Is there a thing? Am I supposed to be saving the shoes? What I am supposed to do?'”
Eventually she realized the answer was both freeing (as in, do whatever you damn well please because, as she says, “There’s no right or wrong way to do the thing called life”) and straightforward: “As long as they’re loved and they know they’re loved, I think everything else will fall into place.”
Nick Agro/E! News
Admittedly, it took a beat for all the pieces to snap together.
“I’m now at a point where I’ve forgiven because I chose to,” she explains of her feelings toward her mother, who disappeared for good after Vanessa turned over her pageant winnings, “but it definitely got to a point where when I had my kids, I got more angry at her for leaving. Like, I can’t imagine ever just walking out on my kids.”
Eventually, though, she continues, “I just had to realize, who knows what’s going on in her life? But I’m not going to repeat the cycle. I’m going to break the cycle.”
Rich Fury/Getty Images
That means telling her kids “to the point of nauseam how much I love them,” Vanessa says. “And I tell them how I will always be there for them and they can always depend on me. It’s funny, it’s to the point where I’m like, ‘Brooklyn, you know that…’ She’s like, ‘I know! You love me and you’ll always be there for me.'”
She’s also come up with a game plan to navigate the more treacherous parts of the teen years.
“My husband and I talk about it a lot, there’s going to be a day when the kids are like, ‘I hate you!’ And I will say, ‘Okay, I’m sorry you feel that way,'” she details. “And I’ll keep peeking in because then I know they’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.’ But we have to learn all of these feelings, all of these emotions as a kid and I think that I cannot take it personally as an adult. But I feel like there were moments growing up where my parents did take it personally and so I try not to do that to my kids.”
But, mostly, Vanessa and Nick have found an entire books’ worth of ways to simply be there for their brood.
Among Vanessa’s favorites are the Cartier Love bracelet Nick gave her before Phoenix’s 2015 arrival, explaining how they’d pass it down to their little girl on her 18th birthday. “Brooklyn always looks at my jewelry and I’m like, ‘You know this will be yours one day,'” she says. “So I think about it a lot. And it makes me happy.”
She also envisions her kids reading decades of emails from the accounts her and Nick created. “You’ll take a first day of school picture and just really quickly send it and say, ‘This was your first day of school. I was feeling this way, you were feeling that way. Love you,'” she says of the little notes she sends during milestone events, like the time Camden nailed every shot in his basketball game. “And it’s so quick because we always have our phones on us, but at the end of the day, it’s your new scrapbook.”
And, of course, there’s nothing quite like a Lachey family Christmas, which could very well be celebrated in Hawaii this year as Vanessa continues her stint on NCIS: Hawai’i. “Mele Kalikimaka!” she says of leaning into the spirit.
Nick banishes any Christmas music and greenery before Thanksgiving, to ensure that the fall holidays get their due. “He loves Christmas music. I mean, he has multiple Christmas albums,” she notes of the 98 Degrees lead turned solo artist. But, “he likes to take each holiday as they come. And Thanksgiving is probably his favorite because it’s football and food and friends.”
So once the turkey and stuffing has been cleared, “It’s on,” she says. Their Friday decorating frenzy (“The house smells like pine trees!”) dates back to the first year of their relationship when they casually started putting up some decor at his house. “He pulled down some Christmas stuff,” Vanessa recalls, “and the next thing you know, at 3 in the morning, we’ve gotten the entire house decorated.”
From there, ’tis the season for writing letters to Santa, decorating their own individual mini trees and gorging on Vanessa’s Christmas morning casserole—just a few of the family traditions her kids have begun to eagerly anticipate, allowing Vanessa to fantasize about the moment they bring them to their own families.
Take what happened on Camden’s 9th birthday this past September. Every year, Vanessa lines up the family photos taken at the previous years’ parties. But since they celebrated Camden’s day at a Disney resort in Oahu, she didn’t have them. “Then when we got home, they were there and it just made him light up,” she reveals. “And it kind of made me feel good because I’m like, Okay, I’m doing this for me, but he’s also recognizing it and he’s looking forward to it. And it was a really sweet moment.”
For the next several minutes, the elementary schooler gushed over each memory from Camden’s Construction Site and Lachey Racing to Lachey Ninja Warrior Family and “they had fun giggling at each other,” she says of her eldest two. “Because Brooklyn was little in a lot of the photos and they’re like, ‘Look at you! You look so little! Look at your cheeks! Look at your pigtails.’ And they just had a blast with it.”
Those are the moments that push her to keep it up, through the busyness of a work schedule that includes a full slate of acting and hosting gigs. (Well, that and regular date nights, another must Vanessa swears by to remind yourself that “you and this person created the family before it was a family.”)
She still remembers the night she got home from a work trip around 1 a.m. mere hours before her kids would be off for their first day of school. “I was completely exhausted,” she admits. And yet she forced herself to stay up “and we blew balloons and then I put up banners and I made their little breakfast. And the next morning they came screaming downstairs. They’re like, ‘First day of school! Yay!!!’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Thank God I did it.'”
Don’t get her wrong, she’s knows parenting is hard and the never-ending hustle can start to wear. But she tries to remind herself that this stage of life won’t last nearly as long as it feels.
“Kind of what I’ve hung my hat on is it gets better—and it’s not always going to be like this,” she explains. “And I think at some point one day, we’re going to miss this. So when they’re screaming, playing with each other, we’re going to miss it because one day they’re going to be teenagers and they’re going to lock themselves in their own rooms. And when all they want to do is come in the bathroom when you’re trying to go to the bathroom and you’re like, ‘I just want a minute to myself!’ you’re going to miss it when they leave the house and you’re alone in the bathroom.”
So in those moments when she’s juggling an irate toddler, a still-cooking dinner and a much-needed glass of wine, “I really try to think, ‘Oh, this won’t last forever—both the craziness of it, but also the nostalgia and the beauty of it.’ Because they do grow up. And pretty quickly as everyone has continued to remind me: ‘They grow up so fast!’ So I try to take a breath.”
And remind herself exactly how far she’s come.
She’s had her moments where she was “feeling like I was constantly failing and not realizing that in the interim, I was actually creating something beautiful for my kids and for my family,” she says of the special rituals and memories they’ve built together over the past decade. And when she’s able to step back and see it, “It’s a good feeling that I think we can all share,” notes Vanessa, “because obviously looking at my messy past, it didn’t define my future. And I hope that some people can take inspiration from that.”
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Life from Scratch: Family Traditions That Start with You by Vanessa Lachey
The book includes insights on creating her own family rituals, seasonal recipes, and personal stories she’s never shared before.